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Hilary Mantel on anorexia (2004)

She's always got an interesting angle; both items are from an LRB review in March 2004. This extract fromThe Guardian http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=lrb+hilary+mantel+holy+anorexia&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CC8QFjACahUKEwiKu-Oq55HGAhVlC9sKHcLbAPw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Fsociety%2F2004%2Fmar%2F04%2Fmentalhealth.health&ei=aNN-VYrnLOWW7AbCt4PgDw&usg=AFQjCNFtPyF20Jti5QjY8R3isyppaIoq-Q&bvm=bv.95515949,d.ZGU       and this from the review itself

The young women who survive anorexia do not like themselves. Their memoirs burn with self-hatred, expressed in terms which often seem anachronistic. In My Hungry Hell, Kate Chisholm says: ‘Pride is the besetting sin of the anorexic: pride in her self-denial, in her thin body, in her superiority. Survivors are reluctant to admit that anorexia, which in the end leads to invalidity and death, is along the way a path of pleasure and power: it is the power that confers pleasure, however freakish and fragile the gratification may seem. When you are isolated, back to the social wall, control over your own ingestion and excretion is all you have left; this is why professional torturers make sure to remove it. Why would women feel so hounded, when feminism is a done deal? Think about it. What are the choices on offer? First, the promise of equality was extended to educated professional women. You can be like men, occupy the same positions, earn the same salary. Then equal opportunities were extended to uneducated girls; you, too, can get drunk, and fight in the streets on pay-night. You’ll fit in childcare somehow, around the practice of constant self-assertion – a practice now as obligatory as self-abasement used to be. Self-assertion means acting; it means denying your nature; it means embracing superficiality and coarseness. Girls may not be girls; they may be gross and sexually primed, like adolescent boys.

Not every young woman wants to take the world up on this offer. It is possible that there is a certain personality structure which has always been problematical for women, and which is as difficult to live with today as it ever was – a type which is withdrawn, thoughtful, reserved, self-contained and judgmental, naturally more cerebral than emotional. Adolescence is difficult for such people; peer-pressure and hormonal disruption whips them into forced emotion, sends them spinning like that Victorian toy called a whipping-top. Suddenly self-containment becomes difficult. Emotions become labile. Why do some children cut themselves, stud themselves and arrange for bodily modifications that turn passers-by sick in the streets, while others merely dwindle quietly? Is it a class issue? Is it to do with educational level? The subject is complex and intractable. The cutters have chosen a form of display that even the great secular hysterics of the 19th century would have found unsubtle, while the starvers defy all the ingenuities of modern medicine; the bulimics borrow the tricks of both, and are perhaps the true heirs of those spider-swallowers. Anorexia itself seems like mad behaviour, but I don’t think it is madness. It is a way of shrinking back, of reserving, preserving the self, fighting free of sexual and emotional entanglements. It says, like Christ, ‘noli me tangere.’ Touch me not and take yourself off. For a year or two, it may be a valid strategy; to be greensick, to be out of the game; to die just a little; to nourish the inner being while starving the outer being; to buy time. Most anorexics do recover, after all: somehow, and despite the violence visited on them in the name of therapy, the physical and psychological invasion, they recover, fatten, compromise. Anorexia can be an accommodation, a strategy for survival. In Holy Anorexia, Bell remarks how often, once recovered, notorious starvers became leaders of their communities, serene young mothers superior who were noticeably wise and moderate in setting the rules for their own convents. Such career opportunities are not available these days. I don’t think holy anorexia is very different from secular anorexia. I wish it were. It ought to be possible to live and thrive, without conforming, complying, giving in, but also without imitating a man, even Christ: it should be possible to live without constant falsification. It should be possible for a woman to live – without feeling that she is starving on the doorstep of plenty – as light, remarkable, strong and free. As an evolved fish: in her element, and without scales.d this from the review